Astrology by Hand Week 32
Getting Beneath the Surface of the Interpretation
Let me repeat the aphorism from Schoener from last week for easy reference.
”Both infortunes (Mars and Saturn) in the Sixth House with Venus, the native’s wives will be women of ill-repute.”
As I said last week, this is a typical medieval, Greek or Hindu style of one-liner that often leaves modern and Western astrologers breathless with a ”where did they get that?” kind of response. And does this really mean that and only that?
The answer to the second question is easy. No! This combination can mean all manner of things, but the texts do not give the principles behind the text. They only give the zippy one-liner.
For most modern astrologers, the presence of these three planets (Venus, Mars and Saturn) would represent a loaded Sixth House, but modern astrologers would not be really interested unless they were closely conjunct each other. For medieval astrologers, the presence in the same house would have been significant by itself. What would it have meant?
What Is a Malefic?
First of all, Mars and Saturn were both considered malefics, as they are still by some modern astrologers. In fact, even I do not object to that classification as long as we really understand what we mean by a malefic. For years I have been giving the same definition of ”malefic.” To wit: a malefic is a planet that, statistically speaking, most people do not handle very well! In this I am actually in accord with some of the ancients. Many of them believed that no planets were inherently evil, but rather that most of us do not know how to respond to them properly. To me, a malefic is a planet that we need to be careful with in how we react to it. And certainly I agree that both Mars and Saturn, difficult as they may be, are both planetary energies that are useful and necessary.
In any case, Mars and Saturn were not only regarded as malefic, but also as having very incompatible natures with regard to each other. Specifically, Mars was supposed to be very hot and Saturn very cold. Both were also supposed to be dry, although Saturn was often also associated with things that were very wet. But Mars’ dryness was supposed to be very destructive, as was Saturn’s cold. Putting them into the same house was supposed to make the affairs of that house torn between heat and cold, and so dry as to not be able to sustain life.
How Venus Fares
Now we add Venus. Venus is variously described by the ancient and medieval astrologers as being moderately warm (Ptolemy) and moderately cool (most medieval astrologers) and by all as moist. Venus’ moisture puts it at odds with both Mars and Saturn. And Venus has its qualities in moderation and balance, so in this way it is also at odds with Mars and Saturn, which have their qualities to an extreme degree and out of balance. This very extremeness of quality is one of the things that was supposed to make them malefic (Ptolemy).
Now we add another factor. All things being equal, in any pair of planets, the superior (farther from Earth) of two planets was supposed to be stronger than the inferior (closer to Earth) planet. Saturn is superior to Mars and Venus, and Mars is superior to Venus. This makes Venus low on the totem pole here. Then we also have the struggle between the heat of Mars and the cold of Saturn. Mars with Venus was supposed to stimulate sexual desire and passion. Saturn with Venus was supposed to make Venus cold and calculating. And Venus of course in a man’s chart, along with the Moon, represents his experience of women. (Actually the medievals would have said that it represents the actual women, not the experience. This is a modernism on my part, but one I am reluctant to part with.)
Now we add the symbolism of the Sixth House as representing, among other things, social inferiors. Putting this all together we have the symbol of a woman who is both flagrantly sexual, and cool and calculating, and who is also a social inferior. I think that you can see how the interpretation was derived. And actually it may have also been the result of observation, but we do not know that.
When you understand the logic of an aphorism in theoretical terms, it is obvious that the combination could have many meanings, and so it was in traditional astrology. One frequently finds aphorisms with the same or nearly the same combinations of factors with quite different interpretations. This is proof that the contents of aphorisms were not intended to exhaust the possibilities of the combination.
So one might ask, if they never gave theoretical statements about how things worked, where am I getting the stuff that I referred to in my explanations above? The answer is that to some extent they did present theory. It is just that after presenting theory they tended not to show its logic in explaining aphorisms. Theory and application in the old texts tend to occupy different portions of the text. Even in Ptolemy, who was the first to try to expound the theoretical bases of astrology, we see this gap. How theory applied to the individual aphorisms was an exercise largely left to the student. We will talk more about traditional astrological theory next week. But for now the main point is this: the theoretical foundations of traditional astrology are quite elegant and can serve, as we shall see, to bring about an intelligent use of traditional methods in modern times.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob Hand, author of Planets in Transit and other works, is now involved in the translation and publication of texts regarding ancient and medieval astrology through ARHAT Media Inc.